Flint probe turns to deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Flint investigation is focused on whether the city’s river water was the source of a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that claimed 12 lives and if government officials could be culpable of a “very serious” charge, Special Prosecutor Todd Flood said Wednesday.

After charging nine government workers over Flint’s lead contamination, Flood appeared to be telegraphing the investigation’s next move during an interview Wednesday morning on WDET 101.9 FM.

At the outset of Schuette’s Flint water probe, Flood said the investigation could lead to charges as serious as involuntary manslaughter.

On Wednesday, Flood was asked how serious the charges may get and immediately started talking about the Flint area’s 2014-2015 Legionnaires’ outbreak that state and Genesee County health officials did not publicly disclose while people were contracting the disease and dying.

“We are very much looking into the Legionnaires’ disease and the Legionella bacteria and what the effects are, who passed, who died because of that,” he said. “If we can show where that may lead, that could be a very serious charge. And I’ll let that unfold as we investigate that.”

Flood did not elaborate in the radio interview on what the “very serious” charge could be.

But the Royal Oak attorney suggested his investigation is trying to prove what state and county health officials were unable to — that Flint’s corrosive water caused Legionella bacteria to grow inside a damaged pipe system.

“That requires a lot of experts, a lot of doctors to pin together the Legionella from the Flint service lines to the people that drank it and ultimately may have passed because of it,” Flood said. “We have been looking into that and it’s taken a lot of time and a lot of expertise to do so.”

At a news conference last month announcing charges against six of the defendants, Flood said investigator Morris Brown has interviewed 84 Legionnaires’ victims or family members of individuals who contracted the disease and died. The Legionnaires’ outbreak claimed 12 lives and sickened another 79 individuals.

During the interview, Flood defended the more than $2 million in costs his investigation racked up in less than six months. The Detroit News first reported Monday the detailed costs of the investigation based on records obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request.

“When you measure the amount of money compared to the damage that’s here, it’s not, in perspective, it’s not a costly investigation,” Flood said.

The investigation has brought criminal charges against five current and former Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees for allegedly botching regulation of Flint’s water treatment and attempting to cover up mistakes and tamper with lead-in-water reports.

Two current and one retired employee at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services face criminal charges for allegedly concealing test results from Flint children showing a spike in lead levels in their bloodstreams.

Schuette’s team has filed criminal charges against a Flint utility worker who has since accepted a misdemeanor plea deal that remains pending.

Flood said the investigation remains ongoing and he didn’t rule out the probe leading to Gov. Rick Snyder’s office.

“I’m not going to prosecute anybody that made a mistake,” Flood said. “I will prosecute someone that made a decision, a culpable decision, to commit a crime. And that’s where this investigation gets very complicated — who, what, where and when.”

Schuette also has sued two engineering firms that worked at the Flint water treatment plant, contending the companies made the crisis “worse” by not insisting that the city use chemicals to prevent the leaching of toxic lead from old underground pipes.

Flood also said Wednesday that Flint residents could be called to testify about the adverse health effects they experienced while the city was using the Flint River as its water source from April 2014 until October 2015.

“They’re all part of our case,” Flood said. “As a matter of fact, when and if we go to trial … you’ll hear about the victims at our trial. You’ll hear about the experts who conducted medical exams on these victims.”


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Twitter: @ChadLivengood